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William Federer / May 2, 2022

Roman Empire Persecution of Early Christians

There were ten major persecutions of Christians in the first three centuries.

Eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred, with the 12th, John, being reportedly thrown into a boiling pot of oil, but miraculously survived.

Jesus said in Acts 1:8: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

The word “witness” in Greek is “martyr.”

The traditional histories of the Apostles are:

— Peter preached in Rome and was crucified upside down in 66 AD;

— Andrew preached in Asia Minor, modern-day Greece and Turkey, before being crucified on a sideways “Saint Andrew’s Cross” around 60 AD;

— Thomas preached east of Syria, Parthia, and possibly India, and was pierced through with spears by four soldiers in 72 AD;

— Philip reportedly preached in Egypt, Carthage in North Africa, and Asia Minor. After converting the wife of a Roman proconsul in Phrygia, he was arrested and cruelly put to death in the city of Heliopolis around 80 AD;

— Matthew preached in Parthia, Persia and Ethiopia, where he was reportedly stabbed to death in the back in city of Nadabahl in 74 AD;

— Bartholomew, according to tradition, preached in India, Armenia, Ethiopia and Southern Arabia, before being skinned and martyred in the 1st century AD;

— James, the son of Zebedee, was arrested by Herod Agrippa, and beheaded by the Romans in 44 AD;

— James, the son of Alpheus, is said to have ministered in Syria, where he was stoned and clubbed to death in 62 AD;

— Thaddaeus, or Jude, preached in Asia Minor and Greece, till he was crucified in Beirut or Edessa around 65 AD;

— Simon the Zealot reportedly preached in Persia, Mauritania, on Africa’s west, and possibly England, before being crucified in 74 AD;

— Matthias preached in Syria, where he was burned to death.

Though not one of the twelve, the Apostle Paul preached in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and throughout the Roman Empire till he was beheaded in Rome in 66 AD.

There were ten major persecutions of Christians in the first three centuries:

1) Nero A.D. 54-68;
2) Domition A.D. 81- 96;
3) Trajan A.D. 98-117;
4) Antoninus Pius & Marcus Aurelius Antoninus A.D. 138-180;
5) Severus A.D. 193 - 211;
6) Maximus A.D. 235-238;
7) Decius A.D. 249-251;
8) Valerian A.D. 253-260;
9) Aurelian A.D. 274-287;
10) Diocletian A.D. 292-304.

If the government caught Christians assembling, they were subject to being arrested and killed, therefore, Christians met in caves carved underground called catacombs.

Emperor Diocletian’s persecution was the worst.

When Diocletian had lost battles in Persia, his generals told him it was because they had neglected the Roman gods.

Diocletian ordered all military personnel and government employees to worship the Roman gods, thus forcing Christians out of the army or into the closet.

After purging Christians from the military and government, Diocletian surrounded himself with anti-Christian advisers.

He revoked the tolerance issued a previous Emperor Gallienus in 260 AD, and then used the military to force all of Rome to return to worshiping pagan gods.

In 303 AD, Diocletian consulted the Oracle Temple of Apollo at Didyma, which told him to initiate a great empire-wide persecution of Christians.

What followed was a decade of intense persecution of Christians.

Diocletian had his military go systematically province by province arresting church leaders, burning scriptures, destroying churches, cutting out tongues, boiling Christians alive and decapitating them.

From Europe to North Africa, thousands were martyred. The faithful cried out in fervent prayer.

Finally, Diocletian was then struck with an intestinal disease so painful that he abdicated the throne on MAY 1, 305 AD.

The next emperor, Gelarius continued the persecution, but he too was struck with the intestinal disease and died.

Emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians in 313 AD.

Commenting on Roman persecutions was Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who was the Democrat Party’s candidate for President in 1896, 1900, and 1908.

William Jennings Bryan stated in his speech, “The Prince of Peace,” (New York Times, September 7, 1913):

“I can imagine that the early Christians who were carried into the Coliseum to make a spectacle for those more savage than the beasts, were entreated by their doubting companions not to endanger their lives. But, kneeling in the center of the arena, they prayed and sang until they were devoured …”

Bryan continued:

“How helpless they seemed, and, measured by every human rule, how hopeless was their cause! And yet within a few decades the power which they invoked proved mightier than the legions of the Emperor, and the faith in which they died was triumphant o'er all the land … They were greater conquerors in their death than they could have been had they purchased life.”

The Center for Studies on New Religions found that in 2016, over 90,000 Christians were murdered, 30 percent of whom were at the hands of Islamic terrorists.

Fox News published a report, January 6, 2017, titled “Christians the most persecuted group in world for second year: Study.”

Open Doors UK & Ireland CEO Lisa Pearce reported:

“Persecution levels have been rising rapidly across Asia and the Indian subcontinent, driven by extreme religious nationalism which is often tacitly condoned, and sometimes actively encouraged, by local and national governments … If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they are unlikely to live to see another day. North Korea is at the top of the list of countries persecuting Christians, followed by nations practicing sharia Islam. China has increased targeting Christians and demolishing churches.”

Catholic News Agency reported:

“All top 10 countries with the worst persecution of Christians are in Asia and Africa. Somalia ranks second on the list, followed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea … More Christians were recorded as killed (in Pakistan) for their faith in 2016 than any other country.”

Open Doors reported that in 2016:

— Islamic fundamentalism is responsible for persecution of Christians in 35 of the top 50 countries;

— Pakistan is 4th in persecution, worse than northern Nigeria;

— Sudan is the 5th worst persecutor of Christians, with President Omar al-Bashir proclaiming, “Now we can impose sharia here”;

— Christians are killed in crossfire in Yemen, Syria and Iraq;

— Hindu nationalists have caused India to reach its highest level of persecution, battering churches;

— Laos, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Bhutan increased persecution;

— Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka has put the country among the top 50 persecutors;

— Turkish President Erdogan used a suspicious coup to eliminate opposition and increase persecution of Christians, moderate Muslims and non-Islamists.

President Ronald Reagan commented on the persecution of Christians in the Roman Coliseum at the National Prayer Breakfast, February 2, 1984:

“This power of prayer can be illustrated by the story that goes back to the fourth century — the monk (Telemachus) living in a little remote village, spending most of his time in prayer … One day he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome … Weeks and weeks later, he arrived … at a time of a festival in Rome … He followed a crowd into the Coliseum, and then, there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, ‘We who are about to die salute you.’ And he realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, ‘In the Name of Christ, stop!’ And his voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum …”

Reagan continued:

“And as the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, ‘In the Name of Christ, stop!’ And they thought it was part of the entertainment, and at first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry …”

He added:

“And as he was pleading with the gladiators, ‘In the Name of Christ, stop!’ one of them plunged his sword into his body. And as he fell to the sand of the arena in death, his last words were, ‘In the Name of Christ, stop!’ … And suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. And then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and the others began to follow. And in the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did anyone kill or did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd …”

Reagan ended:

“One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. ‘In the Name of Christ, stop!’ It is something we could be saying to each other throughout the world today.”

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